Mustang outside hitters dent Grizzlies' playoff hopes
McNeil, Tapia tally double-doubles for Grizzlies
ALAMOSA, Colo.— The Western New Mexico University Mustangs recorded 14 blocks and received 34 combined kills from outside hitters Natali Murdock and Angelina Pulu as they came from a set down to record an important 23-25, 25-22, 25-21, 25-16 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference volleyball victory over the host Adams State College Grizzlies, Friday night in Plachy Hall.
The Mustangs, who hit at an impressive .292 clip throughout the night, improved to 10-9 overall and to 8-6 in RMAC playing taking a large step forward towards a RMAC Tournament berth. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies fell to 7-14 overall and to 4-9 in RMAC play and are now a full three matches behind Colorado Christian and Fort Lewis for the final two tournament spots with just five matches to go in the regular season.
Murdock, who leads the RMAC in kills per set (4.11), recorded a match-high 18 kill for the victorious visitors while Pulu tallied 16 while hitting .364. She also had 10 digs. Senior libero Schalicia Degase led the Mustangs in that category with 24 while setter Alyssa Meihack recorded a double-double with 43 assists and 15 digs.
The Grizzlies also had two players record double-doubles as senior setter Mary McNeil (Phoenix, Ariz.) tallied 46 assists and 12 digs while freshman middle hitter Megan Tapia (Pueblo, Colo.) had 13 kills and a career-high digs while hitting a team-best .333. McNeil now has 22 career double-doubles. Tapia’s effort was her first collegiate double-double.
Meanwhile, sophomore outside hitter Dominique Davis (Denver, Colo.) tallied a team-high 14 kills while freshman Laura Loosbrock (Alamosa, Colo.) chipped in another 11, reaching double figures for the fifth straight match.
Junior libero AJ Palmer (Colorado Springs, Colo.) had 14 digs to lead the Grizzlies, defensively.
Jordan Johnston and Heather Rux led the Mustangs to their blocking advantage as each tallied six rejections. Ziona Verhulsdonk, who added nine kills on a .400 hitting effort, also had five blocks.
Both teams came out firing in the first set as the Grizzlies hit .405 in the opening set, helping them to a .170 overall figure. Meanwhile, WNMU hit .382 in the first frame, which was tied 16 separate times.
There were also six lead changes in the set, none bigger than when the Grizzlies rallied from a 23-21 deficit to win the final four points.
A Davis kill started that run before Deprece Washington (Johnstown, Colo.) put down one of her nine kills to tie the set. McNeil, Loosbrock and Washington then combined for a rare triple-block, one of two the Grizzlies would have on the night, on Pulu to give the Grizzlies a 24-23 lead, a moment before Loosbrock gave the Grizzlies the opening set.
The second set was nearly as interesting in the early going and was tied seven times including at 15 as a 5-0 Mustang run featuring three Pulu kills helped the Mustangs take command, 19-16.
The Grizzlies would later fall behind 23-18 but rattled off four straight points thanks to three Mustang miscues and a Loosbrock, Tapia and Letisha Spencer (Rio Rancho, N.M.) triple-block to close within a single point at 23-22.
However, the Grizzlies committed a miscue of their own before a block by WNMU’s Johnston and Verhulsdonk sent the match into the intermission tied at a set each.
After jumping out to a 4-1 lead in the third set, the Grizzlies watched a service error trigger a 7-0 Mustang run that also included two Johnston and Verhulsdonk blocks and two Murdock kills.
Down 8-4 at that point, the Grizzlies never fully recovered and were down the rest of the set, which saw the Mustangs record five blocks while hitting a solid .344.
The Mustangs then went for the jugular and broke open a 5-5 fourth-set tie with a 14-3 extending run that saw Murdock put down four kills and a block in an 8-0 spurt.
Leading 19-8 at that point, the Mustangs eventually built up a 24-12 lead on a Johnston and Verhulsdonk block before the Grizzlies were able to erase four match-points only to see Pulu put away the match-clinching kill.
The Grizzlies will attempt to bounce back on Saturday evening when they host the New Mexico Highlands University Cowgirls (4-18, 0-13 RMAC) at 5 p.m. The Grizzlies have defeated the Cowgirls nine straight times over the last five seasons including in a 5-set thriller played in Santa Fe, N.M. last month.